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The Oceanside City Council will now consider updates to the city's decades-old General Plan. File photo
The Oceanside City Council will now consider updates to the city's decades-old General Plan. File photo
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Oceanside planners advance blueprints for General Plan Update

OCEANSIDE — The blueprints for the city’s next phase of its General Plan Update are on the way to the Oceanside City Council after receiving unanimous approval from the Planning Commission late last month.

Over the past five years, the city has been working on updating its decades-old General Plan, which is Oceanside’s blueprint document for future growth and development. The purpose of a general plan is to establish a long-range vision for the community by expressing the city’s broader values, determining how the city should look and how to make that vision a reality.

In 2019, the City Council adopted the first phase of the General Plan Update, which introduced an Economic Development Element (EDE), Energy and Climate Action Element (ECAE) and a Climate Action Plan (CAP). According to staff, these elements together encourage sustainable growth, more infill development, increased transportation options, preserving farmland and open space and renewable energy sourcing.

The majority of housing and employment growth is expected to occur along Mission Avenue and Oceanside Boulevard, Oceanside’s major east-west corridors. The California Department of Transportation awarded the city grant funding to create a Smart and Sustainable Corridors Plan, which will provide incentives for more infill and redevelopment in these areas.

In early 2020, staff began work on the second phase. Since then, the city has collected input from residents, conducted studies on city resources, created a Draft Housing Element, and formed a community vision with several guiding principles for the update. Additionally, the city developed a policy framework for the South Morro Hills Community Plan that outlines principles for how to manage the city’s farming community.

Earlier in March, staff presented three project alternatives to the Planning Commission for approval. Each of these alternatives assumes different outcomes for the city regarding future development, but the biggest differences between the three alternatives were their assumptions about future development in South Morro Hills – Alternative A assumed some additional housing, Alternative B assume no additional housing, and Alternative C assumed as many as 450 additional units above its current designation by building clustered housing.

Residents’ concerns regarding the potential overdevelopment and loss of the city’s remaining farmland have dominated most of the city’s public meetings on the update over the past year.

Following the March 28 meeting when the Planning Commission did not end up choosing an alternative and instead countered with additional questions, staff separated the South Morro Hills Community Plan discussion from the General Plan Update so as to let the community’s individual plan develop at its own pace without slowing down the update’s progress.

“You have many questions about South Morro Hills and we want to make sure we get you good answers,” said City Planner Russ Cunningham.

Staff returned to the Planning Commission on May 23 to seek its choice between the newly amended Alternatives A and B without any assumptions on South Morro Hills. Instead, both of the alternatives assume less housing growth overall within the next 30 years than plans previously presented in March.

They also propose minimal conversion of industrial land to commercial use and some concentration of growth along the Oceanside Boulevard corridor.

Under Alternative A, it is assumed that an additional 20,000 new units will be built primarily in the four corridors of Oceanside Boulevard, Mission Avenue, Vista Way and Coast Highway.

This alternative predicts more growth in retail and hospitality; less robust commercial development in mixed use projects; no low-intensity, low-impact industrial uses in commercial districts; and more change in single family neighborhoods related to SB 9 allowing properties to accommodate two units and even four in some cases.

“We think as many as 3,000 SB 9 units could be developed over the next 30 years,” Cunningham told the Planning Commission in late May.

On the flipside, Alternative B, which was staff’s recommendation that received the commission’s unanimous approval, assumed less overall housing growth at just over 17,000 new units; less growth in retail and hospitality; more robust commercial development in mixed use projects; some low-intensity, low-impact industrial uses in commercial districts; and less change in single-family neighborhoods.

Cunningham explained that staff chose to recommend Alternative B because it tracks closer to the city’s historical growth trends over the last 30 years as well as the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocation, a state mandate requiring cities to plan for new housing.

Cunningham also noted that while both plans increase the jobs-to-housing ratio within the city, Alternative B’s direction is more realistic.

“We have to be realistic in our expectations of what sort of jobs-to-housing ratio we can achieve,” Cunningham said.

Alternative B is also preferred because it reserves more industrial land for industrial uses compared to Alternative A.

Upon approval of the preferred plan, Commissioner Louise Balma added an additional caveat – further analysis on North River Road and whether or not it should be converted into four lanes.

“We were hoping it would always have two lanes,” Balma said. “Making it four lanes is just going to increase the cut-through traffic… we need more traffic calming so it’s not very fast.”

Once the City Council approves its preferred alternative plan, staff will formalize the plan which will help guide the South Morro Hills Community Plan. The project’s team will also soon complete outlines of the updated General Plan’s elements: Efficient and Compatible Use Element, Multimodal Mobility Element, Safe and Resilient Environment Element, Vital and Sustainable Resources Element, Health and Livable Community Element, and Remarkable Community Element.

The General Plan Update will undergo environmental review this summer, and a draft environmental impact report will be released to the public by the end of this year.